Rodriguez works into fifth, Mullins returns, Stowers wins latest left-on-left battle (O's win 5-2)

BRADENTON, Fla. – The third inning today began to bring out the better spring side of Grayson Rodriguez.

Rodriguez retired the Pirates in order, getting the first two outs on four pitches. Jack Suwinski battled through 11 before flying out. Thirteen of those 15 pitches were strikes.

Making his fourth exhibition start, Rodriguez ventured into the fifth inning in his longest outing. He was removed after a one-out double by Alika Williams.

The Orioles stretched Rodriguez to 76 pitches (51 strikes), 14 more than his previous start against the Tigers. He was charged with two runs and four hits with two walks and a pair of strikeouts.

Before today, Rodriguez had totaled 7 1/3 innings and allowed three runs and 10 hits with five walks and five strikeouts.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first on Connor Joe’s leadoff double and ground balls to the right side of the infield from Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Rodriguez threw 15 pitches in the inning.

Henry Davis walked with one out in the second and scored after singles by Nick Gonzales and Billy McKinney, the latter a late addition to the lineup with Andrew McCutchen scratched. Rodriguez’s fastball, which Statcast was identifying as his four-seamer, averaged 96.4 mph until he hit 98.8 against Davis. He struck out Rowdy Tellez with a changeup and Williams with his curveball.

Statcast corrected the mistake later to distinguish the two-seamer from the four. The four-seam was clocked at 98.6 against Suwinski, who was retired on the only slider thrown in the lengthy plate appearance.

“That felt like a regular season at-bat right there. That was a battle,” Rodriguez said.

“I definitely wasn’t going to give up. He did a good job fouling a bunch of pitches off. That was a good taste of a regular season at-bat right there.”

Davis walked again with one out in the fourth and was erased on a 6-3 double play, an inning that cost Rodriguez only 10 pitches and left him at 66.

McKinney popped up and Williams lined a changeup to left field for the double that brought manager Brandon Hyde out of the dugout. Kyle Virbitsky stranded the runner, leaving Rodriguez with a 3.86 ERA.

“I think (the stuff) got a lot better toward the back end of the outing,” Rodriguez said. “A little sluggish in the first. Threw a bad slider to start off the game, double to Joe. That’s a pitch we’re still working on.”

Fastball location has improved a lot since the beginning of camp, and not by accident.

“It’s something that’s been a focus for me, being able to go up and down in the zone,” Rodriguez said.

Taking a broader look at his spring training, Rodriguez said, “Obviously, there’s still a lot to work on, but being able to go and get a fifth up today was pretty big. Obviously, want to pitch six, seven innings every start. But just being able to get that fifth up this early, it’s big.”

* Cedric Mullins went 0-for-3 in his first game since March 4. He popped up in the top of the first to complete a seven-pitch at-bat, flied to center field in the third, and popped up the first pitch he saw to end the fifth.

Kyle Stowers moved from right to center, and Elio Prado played right.

The Orioles acquired Prado from the Red Sox in the Andrew Cashner trade in July 2019.

Stowers hit his fourth home run, all of them against left-handers. His three-run shot off Ryan Borucki in the seventh followed Tyler Nevin’s RBI single and broke a 2-2 tie.

A sweeper from Boruki never stood a chance.

Stowers raised his RBI total to nine, tying Colton Cowser and] Coby Mayo for the team lead. His four homers are tied with Cowser for first.

* Pirates left-hander Marco Gonzales held the Orioles to one run and one hit in five innings. Austin Hays was hit by a pitch in the second, Ramón Urías walked and Jorge Mateo’s 109.5 mph line drive single into left field tied the game.

The only other baserunner against Gonzales came on Anthony Santander’s leadoff walk in the fourth.

* Craig Kimbrel has back-to-back scoreless outings. He blanked the Pirates in the sixth, with a single and strikeout in the mix. Jonathan Heasley went 1-2-3 with a strikeout in the seventh.

Kimbrel threw live batting practice on the back fields between his appearances.

* The Orioles defeated the Pirates 5-2 and are 16-4-1.

Nick Vespi struck out five batters two scoreless innings.

Asked about Rodriguez, Hyde said, “I was excited about his last two-plus innings there at the end.”

“The tempo was really good, the strike-throwing ability went much better. I thought he was feeling for it the first couple innings a little bit, but credit to him, he only gave up a run. But the third and fourth innings were much, much better, just how he used his pitches and the tempo. Everything on the mound was just improved.”

Hyde liked how Rodriguez was in attack mode later in the start, especially against Suwinski.

“Continuing to throw strikes, trusting his stuff in the strike zone, not nibbling and getting behind in the count,” Hyde said. “He’s got such good stuff, he’s just got to be able to attack hitters and put guys away with two strikes and not get in such deep counts all the time and behind in the count all the time.”

Stowers began the day 6-for-13 against left-handers and 1-for-16 against right-handers.

Today’s hit “was loud and long,” Hyde said.

“Kyle’s come into camp doing everything right, making the most of the opportunity right now and swinging the bat well.”

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